Qatari television station Al Jazeera recently published an expose on the Boeing 787 that was quite negative. The video is nearly an hour long and leaves an uneducated viewer with the impression that 787s will soon be falling out of the sky, a la Chicken Little. Our reaction is no, that is unlikely to happen.
We are keen followers of this industry; this is where we do business. Finding fault and criticizing is easy. And when this is done by people with little industry knowledge, it’s mostly inaccurate. Traditional media has an old SOP – “if it bleeds, it leads”. And the Al Jazeera report is tabloid-style journalism masquerading as an in-depth analysis.
Unlike Al Jazeera, we will try to be fair and balanced:
- Boeing’s 787 program did not cover the company in glory. It is clearly the most fumbled project in the company’s history. But that is old news. And as the 787-9 entry into service demonstrates, tough lessons have been successfully learned. Heads have rolled – perhaps not as many as should have, or the right ones. But that decision lies with company management, and anyone commenting from outside is a pundit. Second guessing is easy when it’s not you making the decision, or betting your career on the outcome.
- Boeing has a history of friction between managers and union employees. More old news. It is not difficult to find dissatisfied employees at Boeing – there are over 82,000 people at BCA.
- Last year Forbes put out a story that there are twice as many dissatisfied employees as satisfied ones. If true, Al Jazeera should have had a long line of unhappy people to speak with. They clearly did not, focusing on only a few. Maybe things aren’t so bad. Certainly the introduction of high paying manufacturing jobs in an area without strong economic opportunities would be viewed positively by many.
- The video also purports that Boeing’s Charleston plant has staff drug use problems and does not utilize drug testing. This is a potential bit of new information. According to the US Department of Labor, this problem is not unique to Boeing or Charleston. If Boeing’s Charleston plant was as bad as national averages, there would be a concern. Other than Al Jazeera’s video, we know of no evidence that shows Boeing’s employees to be at or above national averages for substance abuse. The implication that Charleston is a haven for substance abusers is possibly libelous.
- Boeing management are made out to be at least greedy, maybe worse. This is grossly unfair. Boeing is a public company. If the company management does not perform, the stock price will reflect this and management gets fired. That is how it works in the United States. People are rewarded for their skills. From the shop floor to the board room. Did Boeing’s outsourcing strategy backfire? Yes. Have there been lessons learned? Yes. Does it mean Boeing is compromising safety? No.
- Finally Al Jazeera states one customer will not take any Charleston produced 787s. Is this true? We don’t know. But demand for 787s has not wavered much. Airlines typically have their own onsite inspectors who conduct detailed inspections. (for example Google “Qatar Airways A380 delivery”). If there is a hint at any problems, customers reject deliveries. The 787 has had problems, but these have largely been overcome.
How about some questions for Al Jazeera?
The network is owned by the Qatari government, which is run by the Al Thani family. That same family and government own Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways owns or has 166 Boeing aircraft on order. Of these, 14 are in service 787s with 46 more are on order.
- Did Al Jazeera get Qatar Airways clearance to do this 787 hit piece?
- Did the Al Thani family know in advance about the 787 program?
Because what Al Jazeera did with this story is not only smear Boeing. They also, by implication, smeared Qatar Airways management and its decision to operate 60 787s. And by extension they smeared Qatar Airways owners, the Al Thani family.
Let’s see the other shoe drop. Throwing mud is a messy business.